Skip to content

Russki pa Russki: 12 hours in Moscow

Think airport lay overs are boring? Think again. Elias Ephron tells the story of his exhilarating 12 hours in Russia's capital.

By Elias Ephron, First Year, Politics & Spanish

Think airport layovers are boring? Think again. Elias Ephron tells the story of his exhilarating 12 hours in Russia's capital.

Russki pa Russki! The phrase sang out in the recesses of my mind, like some long-forgotten ode.


He repeatedly crosses himself and kisses his thumb in a manner that terrifies me. It’s menacing, as menacing as the ghostly yellow lights of the Moscow ring road. I consider texting my father something to the effect of, “If they find me murdered in a field in Russia, the cab driver did it”.

On this balmy night in August, a feeling of paranoia brews beneath my skin. I’m beyond tired. The last time I slept was in Tel Aviv, and in this moment, that land of white sand beaches and olive trees feels like some distant memory. On the roadside, there’s a shrine to an Orthodox patron saint endowed with bouquets of daisies and crooked crosses. The driver crosses himself again and it dawns upon me, we’d been passing the shrines all along. My paranoia is quelled, and I breathe deeply the air that smells like hay and diesel.

View this post on Instagram

погодка огонёк

A post shared by Elizaveta Golubenko (@lisagolubenko) on


“Meoooowww”, cries the one-eyed kitty cat Petrushka, who begs me for a taste of my salmon soup. 3am in the centre of Moscow, and it seems there is nothing to do but sit in this cozy bar and eat and drink and fraternize with the pets. The wooden tables creak and the floorboards respond. On each table is a floral print cloth and a burning candle.

It all feels too damn much like a Bulgakov novel; the cat with one eye, the cherry preserves, the creaking floorboards, the eerie silence, the sweet release of a vodka or two. As an hour or so passes, dawn is breaking, and the ominous night outside my little bar on Lubyanskiy Street gives way to a sky of soft violet. I pay my bill and leave.


Is it a fool, or a prophet, who goes for a walk and meets god?

Red Square, the great beauty of pastel domes, catches me by surprise.

Standing nearby is a woman, two men, one of whom was visibly drunk and on crutches, and two children who seemed no older than twelve. Despite not speaking English, they were intrigued to know what I happened to be doing in Red Square at 4:30 on a Sunday morning. Let it be said that I had the very same question for them.

We stared each other down like different species of zoo animal, not hostile, but fundamentally confused. I explained to them that I was on a 12-hour layover in Moscow, and that I was exploring the city.

At this point they were curious, as I have learned that many Russians are, as to what I thought of their dear leader Vladimir Putin.

The two men asked me emphatically, making “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” gestures rapidly, “Putin? Good. Bad. Yes. No. What you think”? Put on the spot, I make a joke “I don’t know, I’ve never met him”. They erupt in belly-clenching laughter.

As the sun rises higher over Moscow, so do the amusements of my strange new friends. The blond-haired woman takes out a number of long, thin cigarettes, handing one to me. The whole group eyes me nervously as I inhale. They gauge my response as I blow the smoke from my lungs, clapping and jeering at me as one would a carnival monkey.

The little girl, blond and plump-faced, makes a suggestion to the rest of the group, which seems to excite them all immensely. “We go car ride”, she commands, and as any polite traveller, I oblige.


Sitting shotgun and racing through Tverskoy at 6am, we’re the only vehicle on the six-lane road. All I can think, as granite monstrosities pass by like some Soviet technicolor driving reel, is how my mother would not approve of this at all.

On the side of the road, we see a willowy young blond woman, her boyfriend, high on coke, and a fat middle-aged man in a soiled t-shirt. We cross three lanes of traffic to pull up alongside them. After a brief exchange of what sounds to me like yelling, they pile in. Continuing once more through the golden light of the early morning, and with Russian gangsta rap blasting from the car’s speakers, the topic turns to alcohol.


Flickr / Mariano Mantel

The driver looks at me and fiendishly flicks his jugular, the tell-tale sign, as my father used to tell me, that a Russian is ready to drink.

“Champagne”! “Vodka”! “Nyet, Champagne”! “Vodka”!, are screamed out by the adults in the car, and it is clear to me that there’s no way I’m getting out of this with my sobriety intact. “Champagne”, I plead, as I’m not really big on spirits before breakfast.

We arrive at a busy restaurant on a dead street. My companions order us a shocking eight bottles of sparkling wine.

The boyfriend, a soundcloud rapper, intermittently tries to show me pornography on his phone. The two children present are asking me questions about school in America. The men and the older blonde are singing and taking pictures with me.

At this point the fat, self-proclaimed “gangster” has become so drunk that he’s lost any veneer of toughness. He’s making one toast after another, clinking his glass to Russia, to America, to friendship, to me, with each toast becoming more and more emotional. He wipes away tears with his un-dainty fingers.

The cacophonous shouting of my breakfast mates turns into one incomprehensible monologue. I remind them that I do in fact need to get to the airport, which they all brush off. My head is spinning from the noise, and the wine.

I need to get to Paveletsky. I need. I need…

I wake up on a train speeding towards Domodedovo Airport. Mid-morning, the sun is violent, and grey soviet blocks stand against the verdant green trees of August. Insects buzz in the cabin. Exhaustion and drunkenness shut my eyes again.

I slip in and out of consciousness, as Russia drains out of me, like slowly dripping blood.

Featured Image: Unsplash / patrickschneider

Are you interested in sharing your travelling tales? Get in touch!

Instagram // Twitter // Facebook